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Mr. Tony Banks : Such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). Mr. Heffer : There are more ex-members of the Communist party than members. There are probably more ex-members of that party than members of any political party in the world. I shall go along with the idea proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) about a Select Committee. We must have some form of control over the security services. No one can be happy about what they have done in the past. It is astonishing to read about what happened in the time of the Labour Government and Prime Minister Lord Wilson--I forget his exact title in the House of Lords, which does not matter, as I am never likely to get there myself
As I said, we need control. New clause 2 specifies the need for "review of the budget and annual total expenditure of the Service".
That is vital. Who knows what the budget is now? What is the money used for?
I was a Minister in a Labour Government. I have never forgotten the interesting experience I had when someone from the security services gave me and my colleagues a lecture about how careful we had to be not to be influenced by East European countries. I said that I did not disagree, but asked whether that applied equally to the Americans. There was dead silence. Why should not such an injunction apply as much to the Americans as to the Russians?
Column 55the World Bank and formerly Anthony Eden's private secretary, detailing the similar advice that he was given when being cleared with the security services? It was provided by the late Mr. Donald Maclean.
Mr. Heffer : That underlines my point. For a long time I have believed that there should be an international meeting of the world's spies at which they should hand over their information to each other. That would save a lot of problems and expense.
Why should we get involved in this sort of nonsense? Why should not the Americans be involved in industrial espionage? Why should they not be interested in what is going on in the Department of Trade and Industry? Why should we be as close friends of the Americans as we are distant enemies of the Soviet Union? The quicker we examine these issues and institute an annual report to the House so that we can know what the security services are doing--and who they consider our enemies--the better.
Who are the subversives whom the services will scrutinise? The likes of me? I remember working as a joiner in the Liverpool office of the special branch. One of the special branch officers told me that the special branch had my record. And what was my record? I had been chairman of the Liverpool trades council, and a senior shop steward in Cammell Laird's shipyard and on big industrial sites. I had been blacklisted by the Economic League. What sort of record was that? I was an ordinary working fellow who left the forces in 1945 and went to work at my trade as a carpenter and joiner and I was examined by the special branch because I happened to be a Left-wing member of the Labour party.
Who are the enemies? I agree with the proposals for a review body or Select Committee because we need to know whom the security services are looking at, and why. Are we really concerned about the undermining of our national security or about people inside the country who may be dissidents? I once had an argument about Solidarity in the Polish embassy with the Polish ambassador. He told me that, by going on strike, Solidarity members were undermining the economy of the country. I said that that sounded like Mrs. Thatcher's way of talking. Solidarity members were regarded as the enemy within and no doubt were being watched by the Polish security services. My hon. Friends are right to put forward their amendment, because we must get this whole issue into perspective--
Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West) : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the members of Solidarity did not have a commission or tribunal to look into their complaints and determine whether they were justified in complaining about breaches of civil liberties? They had no such body to decide whether an investigation was necessary. None of those safeguards is built into that sort of situation, but they are clearly built into the Bill, irrespective of the amendment that the hon. Gentleman supports.
Mr. Heffer : The Poles have what they probably call the Minister of the Interior, but we call such a Minister the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State and the Minister of the Interior in Poland have exactly the same role and decide matters on behalf of their respective Governments.
Column 56That is not good enough, because it is not democratic. Why should we say that because the Poles do not have something we should not have it either?
If we must have a Secretary of State we should have a Select Committee or a security review body that would have some control or influence over the Minister of the Interior--in this case the Secretary of State. That is what it is all about. If Conservative Members do not understand that, they have never really understood the ABC of democratic rights, because that is what democratic rights are all about. As a Member of Parliament I have more privileges and rights than some other people, but we are talking about the ordinary subject having the right to query what is going on, where he stands, and whether he has an interest in this question. That is what the whole subject is about.
I do not know enough about Australia to pass a judgment on what has been done there, but I suspect that it is probably a damn sight better than what we are getting. We cannot accept the Government's proposals as they stand. We are to have an apparent betterment of the situation by putting it in the hands of the Secretary of State, but that is not good enough because it puts the security services in the hands of the Government. Who is to say that the Government will not use the security services in their own interests and against the interests of the majority of society?
We need a Select Committee and if we cannot get it we need at least a review body. I should prefer a wider review body than the one that is proposed and I accept that we should have done something about that by putting down our own amendment. I shall vote for the proposal of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) because a Select Committee would be far better than what is proposed. I am worried about a Bill that makes the position worse, or at least no better. Our people want something better and want to see greater control over the security services.
Mr. William Powell (Corby) : In a perfect world gentlemen would not read other gentlemen's correspondence, as the former Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson said. However, we do not live in a perfect world and agents from hostile powers have attempted to penetrate this country in war and in peace in the 20th century. It is right that we should have security services to protect the interests of our people by way of counter- intelligence--to imagine anything else is naive. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) made a valuable point when he talked about the means by which hon. Members would be nominated to the Select Committee, which is the main proposal by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). New clause 5 tabled by the Opposition refers to the members of the Committee being appointed by the Prime Minister and not by the Select Committee on Selection. For some people that may be a fine distinction, but in my experience where patronage resides in the hands of the Prime Minister it is by invitation, whereas those who might not be nominated by means of invitation can at least apply to the Select Committee on Selection and will be considered to find out whether they are appropriate people to sit on the Committee. In talking about new clause 5 the hon. Member for Walton made it clear that the Opposition are talking about prime ministerial patronage and nothing else.
Column 57The amendments and new clauses offer us a choice of what is proposed by Treasury Ministers--which I warmly support as I told the House on Second Reading--the Canadian model advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), or the Select Committee. The Committee would be entirely right to consider some of the background to the Select Committee proposal before passing judgment upon it.
When the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook spoke on Second Reading he confided to the House that which he had confided in the debate on the Gracious Speech and on television--that originally he had hoped to be able to support the legislation to put the Security Service on a statutory basis. Not unnaturally, he said at the same time that he would wish to see the Bill and that his view would be subject to the small print. When the right hon. Gentleman spoke in the debate on the Gracious Speech the Bill had already been published, and I imagine that the right hon. Gentleman had taken advantage of that prior publication to satisfy himself on its contents.
When the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook spoke on Second Reading, he said that he would be unable to support the Government because there was a fatal flaw in the Bill--that no provision had been made for parliamentary scrutiny. Of course it is abundantly clear that the right hon. Gentleman knew that when he spoke on Second Reading and on television. It was already plain that there was no provision for parliamentary scrutiny and it was therefore extraordinary for him to say that, subject to provisions of the Bill, he hoped to support the Government. We subsequently learnt that he found some fundamental defects in the Bill which were there all the time.
That is amazing and I am forced to conclude that the right hon. Gentleman discovered, not for the first time in this Session, that his original line was proving less popular with his hon. Friends than he had anticipated. He therefore decided to back track and come forward with the preposterous idea that the Bill was fundamentally flawed because there was no provision for a Select Committee. Of course one can take that a step further. Since 1979, from time to time the Government have commented on suggestions that there might be provision for Select Committee oversight, but not once since 1979 have any of my right hon. Friends in the Treasury made the slightest suggestion that the Government would favour such a scheme. The right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) made a valuable point, but for some reason it was overlooked by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook when he tried to pull together all the reasons for having a Select Committee. The right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South said that the proposal would provide an element of continuity, which the right hon. Gentleman advised us was much needed, from one Government to another. He said that a decisive reason in his mind for supporting a Select Committee was that element of continuity.
In the circumstances, it is amazing that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook did not advance that argument. It is a convincing argument not for a Select Committee, but for improving the management of the security services. I am satisfied that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister
Column 58and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary have, as a result of some of the events of the past few years, taken decisive steps to ensure that they are not placed in precisely the same position as the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South said he was in from time to time.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook told us of his support for the judiciary, which is no more and no less than one would have expected from him. However, he then criticised the charge that was made to the jury by Mr. Justice McCowan in the Ponting case, and expressed his fear that the Government would appoint only docile judges to be the person behind the Home Secretary of the day. Mr. Justice McCowan made that charge after full legal argument. It has not been challenged in the courts and there is not the slightest doubt that it remains until it is overruled either by Parliament, in the authority of legislation, or by the appeal courts, in an accurate statement of what the law of the country is in this matter. There is no escaping that. However, we have experience of judicial review of the security services because the Security Commission is overseen by a judge. I pay tribute to the work by Lord Diplock, Lord Bridge, the present judicial figure, Lord Justice Lloyd and Lord Justice Griffiths. Governments of all kinds have done well in their choice of senior judicial figures to carry out this onerous and responsible work. It does no credit to the House that we should seek, in a backhanded way, to suggest that the Government appoint only docile judges when there is no evidential basis for that allegation.
There has been criticism--by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and by the hon. Member for Walton--of the suggestion that Privy Councillors should play a pre-eminent role. I concur with what they said. One of the trends in the development of our parliamentary institution is away from over-reliance upon senior and often rather remote figures from the past who happen to have been made Privy Councillors at some time, which gives them a special ability to judge these matters. I hope that we shall not seek to establish special committees of Privy Councillors to oversee these matters. On the basis of experience, only three Members of Parliament are qualified--my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) and the right hon. Members for Morley and Leeds, South and for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), although the latter has served neither as Prime Minister nor Home Secretary. That is a limited pool. Others have become Privy Councillors because of their experience in social security, education and other subjects, but not because of their experience in security. It would be unfortunate if we were to go down that line.
Mr. Richard Shepherd : I hope that my hon. Friend's remarks were not addressed to new clause 2, the whole purpose of which is the appointment of individuals who are seen to be independent. The way to bring them within the circle of secrecy is to make them Privy Councillors subsequently. They do not have to be Privy Councillors to start with. That is the route that the Canadians have followed. Therefore, the point about them being burnt out cases or old politicians need not necessarily apply.
Column 59from Parliament. In an argument as to whether the scrutiny should come from inside or outside Parliament, I have a marginal preference for the former. On the other hand, I do not regard that as a decided argument for setting up a Select Committee. We are back to the argument of those who are within the bounds of secrecy and can be told everything, but can reveal nothing, and those who are outside, who can be told nothing, or very little, and whose usefulness is therefore limited. For that reason, it has been widely canvassed, although I am not persuaded, that the Opposition have taken on board the weighty arguments that were advanced on Second Reading. I hope that the House will decisively reject the approach of both sets of amendments.
Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport) : The aim of the Bill is to put MI5 on a statutory basis and the time has come to do that. Indeed, perhaps it is a little late. Therefore, I support the Bill. However, in passing the Bill, Parliament will be accepting that the Home Secretary will have to ratify, from time to time, action by MI5 that would normally be illegal. He will have to agree to acts taken in the national interest that will perhaps involve burglary, entering the premises of a citizen or somebody living in the country, and perhaps other practices that are, in normal circumstances, outside the law. Therefore, it seems both reasonable and rational that a democratic Parliament should consider to how much scrutiny these actions should be subjected by this or any future Home Secretary. The central point is that, in a democracy, Parliament is charged with the scrutiny of the Executive. In this case, Parliament is charged with the scrutiny of the Home Secretary. Surely Parliament must satisfy itself about those democratic controls. The Security Service is unique, because the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister, who also bears responsibility for MI5, have made it clear, as have their predecessors over many decades, that they will not answer questions on the Floor of the House about matters relating to MI5. That is right. We cannot subject the Security Service to the detailed scrutiny to which we subject all other actions in all other departments of the Executive.
A broad range of opinion in the House believes that it is reasonable to take scrutiny of the Security Service off the Floor of the House. However, over the years, because a substantial number of parliamentarians have been dissatisfied about the control and scrutiny of the Executive, they have more often sought to discuss these matters on the Floor of the House. As a result, there has been increasing public speculation about MI5 in newspapers, on the radio and on television. Some of that has been detrimental to the conduct of the Security Service.
A growing body of people believe that if one could satisfy Parliament, we would find it easier to revert to the previous practice of not having this form of discussion and would accept a greater control of discussions in the media about MI5's activities. None of the amendments and new clauses is perfect, although I do not complain about that, as these issues would normally be dealt with by discussions between the Government and the Opposition parties. Of them all, I find myself much more in agreement with new
Column 60clause 5 and its consequent amendments in the name of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). That group focuses on Parliament. It is probably unwise to focus only on the House of Commons. The other place also has a contribution to make. It would not worry me unduly if the Government of the day decided that they would satisfy Parliament not within the sphere of a Select Committee or a parliamentary commission, but through the mechanism assembled for the Franks committee. I would put up with that. However, the mechanism must satisfy Parliament.
There is one absolute criterion. The committee must include a number of hon. Members because the House of Commons is the pre-eminent body and must be satisfied. I could live with it if it included some Lords or some external members--perhaps it would be chaired in the early days by an independent person such as a member of the judiciary--but the crucial test is whether it will satisfy Parliament. Would Parliament then be prepared to allow the matter to be conducted with a considerable measure of necessary secrecy? The Government must readdress the problem. I shall support the Bill without there being parliamentary scrutiny, although that is a major omission. This would be an appropriate point at which to introduce such scrutiny, but, as we well know, it is not just a question of the security services ; the wider gamut of Government should also be subjected to scrutiny. The matter could be dealt with much better by a resolution from the House, prepared with as much all-party agreement as possible, instead of the absurd situation in which we may be in different Lobbies although agreeing on the basics. I hope that the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) will not press his amendment to a vote. I would support it, but I do not like having to vote on two amendments with both of which I am in broad agreement. It would be far better just to concentrate on the amendment of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and give an indication to the Government that we want some form of parliamentary scrutiny.
Let me deal with the question of Privy Councillors. Again, I prefer the amendment of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook which does not refer to Privy Councillors. The need for Privy Councillors is a technical point. It is referred to specifically in Canada for the same reason as in this country. Most democratic Parliaments, certainly this one, have objected to their Members being positively vetted. We can choose. We either have positive vetting of Members of Parliament, in which case we do not need the device of the Privy Council, or we retain the Privy Council. We need co- operation with the FBI and any other friendly Governments. It has been agreed with the Americans over many decades that they accept people who are members of the Privy Council as having been, in effect, positively vetted. That was the compromise achieved when we had the problem of dealing with security information between the United States and ourselves and there was a refusal of positive vetting for Members of Parliament. No doubt the Canadian Government have much the same understanding. That is the only reason ; there is no mystery about it.
I agree that we cannot have only old lags, people such as me, who have been in Government. There must be an injection of new blood if Parliament is to feel confident. The people concerned must have the confidence of the Leader of the Opposition. From time to time, it is likely that the Leader of the Opposition would want to nominate
Column 61someone who had not been in Government and could not, therefore, be a Privy Councillor. Provided that the Prime Minister of the day was satisfied with the person nominated, he or she would be made a Privy Councillor, as was recommended by the Franks committee.
I believe that I am right in saying that a former civil servant, who is now a distinguished master of Oxford college, Sir Patrick Nairne, was not a Privy Councillor. He was made a Privy Councillor for the purposes of the Franks inquiry. He had to be made a Privy Councillor because he would see information from intelligence sources which might well have come from other countries. There was a particularly delicate point relating to the Franks inquiry. It inquired into actions and papers that had gone to previous Government. That was one of the sensitivities of the inquiry and explains why a unique arrangement was produced.
The fundamental issue is secrecy. The Home Secretary has always used the formula of whether a person can be taken behind the wall of secrecy. He would, therefore, be unable to divulge to the House all the information that is available to him. That is the purpose of the provision. The House of Commons is effectively saying that, as a body of 650 Members, we cannot go behind the wall of secrecy. We understand that. We shall not even be allowed to question the Home Secretary on the Floor of the House. All we are asking is that some of our trusted Members may, on a non-party basis, go behind the wall of secrecy and, thereby, constitute a form of scrutiny, not of control or of day-to-day involvement.
Ministers who have held responsibility in this area would find it beneficial to know that they could be scrutinised and questioned by their fellow parliamentarians on these matters and they would not fear that. Decisions about control in such areas have been made personally by Home Secretaries for many years. Such decisions are not even delegated to junior Ministers. There is a parallel with the Civil Service, but Ministers would welcome the opportunity of going to a wider body for discussion about the general principles. Scrutiny of the expenditure vote associated with MI5 could also be included in this.
Mr. Whitney : On the question of acceptance by the House of the oversight of a scrutiny committee, will the right hon. Gentleman consider what happened to the Public Accounts Committee and its Chairman, who is a distinguished Privy Councillor from the Opposition, when he was taken behind the scenes of the Zircon affair? His judgment was not accepted by the members of his Committee and was, therefore, a fortiori, unlikely to be accepted by the whole House. Was not that a demonstration of the problem that the right hon. Gentleman is seeking to sweep aside?
Dr. Owen : Surely the Chairman of the PAC is vested by the House with responsibility for financial, not security, matters. In that case, he was asked to go into an area which was not his responsibility. If we vested responsibility for security matters in certain people, we should have to accept that they would not be able to tell us about their investigations. There is nothing new about that. It happens in most democratic Parliaments. The House of Representatives and the Senate are thought of as pure
Column 62bodies, but there are Whips there, too. As the seniority rule has been abandoned, there is a great deal of wheeling and dealing among Members there.
This is a solvable problem if the Government of the day and the Opposition parties want to solve it. We are all arguing on the same side. We want to increase national security. We want the Security Service to function effectively. We want MI5 to be respected and trusted. All those things will come about when the House is able to feel once again sufficiently confident about the running of MI5 to trust the Home Secretary and others so that they do not have to reveal information in public about that service. That will come eventually. It has been held up largely by the Prime Minister's obduracy. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House believe that the day is coming when some form of independent parliamentary scrutiny of the security services will come about. I look forward to that day. It will enrich this House when it comes, and I hope that it will be sooner rather than later.
Mr. Allason : There appears to be a great gap between the accountability of the Home Secretary and the lack of any role for a supervising committee of the House or one outside it and it seems that three options are available to us. One is a Select Committee under new clause 5. The second is a broader group of Privy Councillors under new clause 2. The third is to take the Government's line and to say that no supervision or accountability is needed because we already have accountability in the form of the Home Secretary.
The reason why we are discussing the issue, and part of the reason why the Government have produced the Bill, is that Home Secretaries have historically been unable to exercise the necessary control. I do not want to delve back into history, but I believe that the current Home Secretary and his predecessor are to be congratulated. As far as I am aware, they are the first two Home Secretaries who have taken an interest in the Security Service. Until fairly recent times the attitude of the Home Secretary has been, "I do not wish to know about these things." When Security Service officers have had to conduct some clandestine entry they have obtained permission, but have done so through the Permanent Under-Secretary. I know that on at least one occasion the Home Secretary was consulted, but that was on the basis that he could more or less deny that he knew what was going to happen if anything went wrong.
Here we have the problem. Either we have some form of accountability or we do not. I may be completely wrong in my opinion of why the Government have introduced the Bill and I may be misjudging them. They may have other motives and reasons for bringing it forward. It has been suggested that the Government have been obliged to introduce it because of an impending hearing before the European Court. Another explanation is the rather distressing disclosure or admission last year that officers of the Security Service who conducted clandestine operations were not authorised to do so, having been told from 1909 that they were, and did not have the authority of the royal prerogative to break the law. We know now that officers are equal under the law, and perhaps that is as it should be. Perhaps that is the Government's motive in bringing forward the Bill.
Column 63I have never been an advocate of any sort of parliamentary oversight. That is partly because I have been persuaded by members of the agencies that that oversight does not work. In America, there was great anxiety in the intelligence community in the immediate post -Watergate era that politicians would interfere and that the system would go badly wrong. It was felt that officers would be inhibited from conducting operations. It seems that that has not happened.
We have had also the examples of Australia and Canada. The experience in those two countries has been broadly beneficial. Last year, I had long discussions with members of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service, CSIS, and I have been in touch with the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation, ASIO. Their experiences have been good ones, although they had been extremely worried.
One wonders why the Home Secretary appears to be so determined not to share the burdens of his office. It has been said several times that he has many responsibilities that cover a range of issues. It has been questioned whether he would sleep easier in his bed at night in the knowledge that there was a group with which he could share the burden of his responsibilities. He has spoken about the wall of secrecy, and that is a valid argument, but the time has come when we must bring a trusted group behind the wall of secrecy.
As I said, I have never been an advocate of oversight or supervision, but I agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) when he said we are the last to be left without any sort of supervision mechanism, and that sooner or later we shall have one. I am persuaded by my hon. Friend. A few years ago I found myself in trouble for advocating the appointment of an individual who I chose to describe as a non-executive director of the Security Service. I envisaged that someone in that position would sit in on the decisions of the Security Service but would be independent and would act as a safety valve. I found myself in considerable trouble when I advocated that in 1981.
Last year I was in touch with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. Although he was sympathetic and always courteous, he gave the view that what I advocated was not on. I find to my astonishment that the appointment of a non-executive director, inspector general or commissioner, call him what you will, has suddenly become Government policy. It seems that a few Conservative Members, including myself, are slightly ahead of their time in advocating some form of oversight. I was not convinced until recently that oversight was necessary, but I was persuaded that it was by the annual report of the CSIS. It is a remarkable document and I hope that it will become the basis of the document that the commissioner or commissioners will have to supply to the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister. I hope also that a part of the document--whatever can be published subject to security provisions--will be supplied to the rest of the public.
We are left with options. We can accept the Home Secretary's word that things are safe in his hands and that, although there may have been one or two awkward problems in the past, there is accountability through him. Alternatively, we can opt for one of the two new clauses, or both of them.
Column 64I believe to be true? Does my hon. Friend know that three former directors of the Security Service have in various ways supported a form of oversight for our security services? If he feels that that is true or likely to be true, does it not add to the growing chorus of those who say that it is inevitable that oversight will be introduced sooner or later, even if the Government have to be kicked good and hard to get them to accept that?
Mr. Allason : To my knowledge, two former directors general of the Security Service have said that they would not object to a degree of oversight, but in the immortal words of the late Lord Astor, "Well, they would, wouldn't they?" They are not likely to say to a parliamentarian that they distrust politicians, disapprove of parliamentary Committees or do not like the idea of a Select Committee.
It is my experience that members of the intelligence community in the United Kingdom are pretty well opposed to any form of oversight. The senior management was brought kicking and screaming to the appointment of Sir Philip Woodfield. That concession was granted after much difficult discussion. It was finally agreed that some form of safety valve was needed internally so that individuals could let off steam without having to go public, as had happened previously. My opposition to oversight in the past has been the practicalities of it. Is it likely that a committee would be consulted if MI5 decided that it wanted, for example, to mount a coup in Surinam? I very much doubt whether that would happen and it would be very difficult to enforce. Would such a committee prevent comic-book operations? Again, I very much doubt it.
We have heard glowing tributes to the Security Commission. However, why was the Security Commission created in the first place? It was because a series of monumental blunders had occurred. Several things went very badly wrong and a series of committees were created. Eventually it was decided that there should be a permanent standing Security Commission. However, that organisation is treated with derision within the Security Service. The Security Commission has been described to me as "a stable door operation."
On occasions the Security Commission has been completely misled. Should any of my colleagues say that that is disgraceful and that they take the Security Commission quite seriously, can they tell me why the Government have consistently ignored its recommendations? In particular, it ignored the introduction of polygraph testing for certain types of access to top secret atomic information. That recommendation was made in the wake of the Geoffrey Prime affair. The Government have done nothing about that recommendation. Recently the Government sneaked past an announcement, which hardly anyone noticed, that polygraph testing in the Security Service had in some way failed and that there was no chance of the Security Commission's recommendation being introduced.
There are numerous other historical examples of the Security Commission being deliberately misled. Perhaps the most recent example was over the Michael Bettaney case. I am sorry to labour my point, but the Secretary of State cannot tell us that everything is safe in his hands. Although we trust him, believe him and know that he has taken an interest in these matters and visited MI5
Column 65headquarters--and that was a great step forward and good for morale--in the past accountability simply has not worked.
It is no good saying that we have marvellous accountability when any hon. Member who gets to his feet and tries to ask a question or even tries to write to the Secretary of State on this issue is told that it is out of order for any such questions to be tabled or discussed. I do not call that accountability.
There is a tremendous gap and I am a very late convert to the introduction of some kind of oversight or scrutiny. I know that in due course we will hear assurances from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. However, I hope that he will have taken the trouble to consider how his predecessors have fared. I should be delighted to give my right hon. Friend chapter and verse, should he wish it, about cases in which his predecessors were actively misled. Appointing a docile or other member of the judiciary to consider the matter or to look over my right hon. Friend's shoulder has not worked. The experience of Lord Denning's case springs to mind in that respect. I urge the House to consider seriously voting for new clause 2 or new clause 5, or both of them. Although there may be some opposition within the intelligence community to begin with, I recommend hon. Members to examine the Canadian and Australian experiences. I should be delighted to contribute my copy of the annual report of the Canadian security and intelligence review committee to the Library so that hon. Members may be persuaded of my case.
Mr. Buchan : We should not consider this Bill in isolation. It is part of a series of measures dealing with secrecy and intelligence. The Bill's provisions run across all the anxiety that has been expressed about governmental secrecy over the past few years. The "Spycatcher" revelations aroused expectations. A great deal of money was wasted over two years waiting for the "Spycatcher" judgment. The revelations did not shatter Western democracy. The rest of the world knew what had happened, but we went through a charade.
As we witnessed the "Spycatcher" revelations, there was an expectation that the Home Secretary might listen to what the Law Lords said about the judgment. He has ignored their advice in the new Official Secrets Bill. The picture of MI5 bungling, burglaring and bugging in London, whether true or not, hardly brought credit to the Security Service or to this country. We expected some action to be taken.
The action that has been taken is to make the activities of the Security Service legal, but to leave its control in the hands of the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister, both of whom are already pledged to secrecy. While there was an expectation that MI5 would be made more accountable, we hoped that it would be made more democratically accountable. We did not expect its behaviour simply to be sanctified in law and leave the same apparatus of secrecy in existence.
We must also bear in mind the fact that the purpose of secrecy is presumably to defend the secrecy of the secret service. That has not been very successful, has it? What about Burgess, Philby and Maclean? It has not been such
Column 66a successful apparatus that it should be kept so secret. It has not worked even from a practical, sensible, material point of view. The Bill is faulty on several counts. It fails to deal with the security weaknesses in the intelligence services over the past couple of decades. The Bill is also lacking in its response to the question of making the behaviour of MI5 accountable. "Spycatcher" made serious statements. It was not a very important book. Its importance is that it made us aware of such an extent of obsession in the Government that they were prepared to humiliate their most senior civil servant over the years. That obsession probably raised our consciousness and anxiety about these issues.
"Spycatcher" also made certain suggestions and allegations about the behaviour of MI5 in relation to the Governments of the day and specifically in relation to the Government of Harold Wilson. While the book was not very important, it alerted people to certain things and made an accusation which had to be dealt with. We still have had no inquiry into the astonishing accusation that sections of MI5 believed that part of their job was to subvert Governments. We must also consider the apparent belief, particularly of the Prime Minister and perhaps of the Home Secretary, that they accept the judgment in the Ponting case--and I do not mean the jury's judgment, but the judge's judgment--that the interests of the state and of the Government of the day were synonymous. Those factors are not incorporated in the series of discussions in relation to the Official Secrets Bill and this Bill today. The Ministers themselves were subject to pressure, which is why the Bill was introduced--but we cannot see it as anything other than a whitewashing operation. I sympathise with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), partly because we have the same political background and experience. I had been only a short time in the House when I was made a Minister in charge of Scottish home affairs, and therefore in charge of Scotland's police. A few years later, I took a short holiday in Skye, where a friend by the name of Brian Wilson, who is now the Member of Parliament for Cunninghame, North, was editing a paper to which I had given some help in the past. One morning, on our way to a village shop, my hon. Friend told me, "An interesting chap runs the shop. He was a police inspector in Glasgow. I believe that he knows you. His name is Robertson, and he was involved in special branch."
When we entered the shop, a slow smile spread across the face of the man behind the counter, and he said to my hon. Friend, "You are in bad company." I laughed, and replied, "I suppose you knew me before, when I was in charge of the police for two or three years." He answered, "No, I knew you a long time before that." He knew that I had been a member of the Communist party. I was a very innocent member of that party, in the sense of any secret activities. My main job was to educate people in Socialist philosophies. I spent most my time doing that, and occasionally whitewashing the streets with good slogans.
In the context of a former Prime Minister, we know that the concept of the security services--of special branch and of MI5--extends a great deal further than issues of state secrecy, in which they have not been very successful. Therefore, we must examine also how the Security Service
Column 67will be controlled under its new legislation. We note that, under clause 1(2), a function of the service will be to protect against "actions intended to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means."
That emanates from a Prime Minister who describes the miners as the enemy within. So we have reason for not permitting the legalisation of Secret Service activities to be left in the hands of a Home Secretary or Prime Minister--particularly the present Prime Minister.
Mr. Winnick : My hon. Friend refers to targeting when he was in the Communist party. Whatever may have been the rights or wrongs at that time, when the British Communist party's first loyalty was to the Soviet Union and not to Britain--it has changed somewhat in the last few years--it is more disturbing that at present, as Cathy Massiter revealed, people involved in mainstream organisations also are being targeted. The only reason why my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) was targeted was that she held down the job of legal officer of the National Council for Civil Liberties. No one claimed she was trying to overthrow parliamentary democracy.
Mr. Buchan : Part of the problem occurs the moment one tries defining the role of the Security Service in protecting the state or even parliamentary democracy, because we may wish to change the nature of parliamenary democracy.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) has no great love for the House of Lords, and he made a number of strange allies in preventing the Lords from having greater powers. As a junior Minister, sometimes I had to reply to my right hon. Friend and to prove, in my inept way, why he might be wrong. It was not a pleasant task, because he was absolutely right. What will happen if we want to change the present parliamentary democracy but leave matters to a democratically uncontrolled body that believes such change is
"to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by political means"?
Mr. Tony Banks : My hon. Friend goes to the centre of the conflict that could arise. There is the assumption in the amendments that there is a consensus within and across the House about what constitutes the national interest. What exactly is meant by loyalty to a particular system? The politics divide us. The Opposition are concerned that the Government so often view national interests as being the interests of the Government, and therefore of the Tory party.
Mr. Buchan : I am not sure whether my hon. Friend was in the Chamber when I started my speech, but almost the first point I made was that the Government accept the proposition put by the judge to the jury in the Ponting case that the interests of the state are the interests of the Government of the day. The good, common-sense jury said, "We are not having that." The judge clearly directed the jury to return a guilty verdict, but they would have none of it. The Government have not even taken on board the judgment of those 12 good men and true--people speaking on behalf of Britain--that it is ridiculous and dangerous to draw the analogy made by the judge in that case, and of a kind so often made by judges. One should never look for too much wisdom below a wig.
Column 68We are dealing with profound matters requiring a form of democratic accountability. We cannot leave them only to a Home Secretary and to a Prime Minister, to whom he will report. Nor can those matters be dealt with by a commissioner charged with dealing with problems as they arise. The parallel Official Secrets Bill automatically makes illegal action such as that of which Ponting was found to be innocent. Such a person will no longer be saved by normal British justice, with 12 good men and true saying, "Your judgment is nonsense, m'lud." The Government are making it inevitable that someone in a Ponting situation will automatically be found guilty. That is the apparatus of secrecy that is developing.
We must ask ourselves what is so good about the present system of secrecy, which has not worked and has produced more leaks than ever. Enormous damage has been done to the nation by accepting the policies of successive Governments over the past 25 years. If there is to be a system of control, it must be realised that one man sitting on the Treasury Bench, any more than one judge, is no more capable of reaching the right solutions than any other individual. Instead, the system must be brought under the control of people outside the Executive, who can examine, scrutinise and judge it. That more and more powers are being given to the Executive by Bills of this kind is a matter of serious concern.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) welcomes the Bill on the ground that at least it legalises certain security activities. However, there will be greater dangers if we cannot bring those activities under democratic control, especially given not just the incidence of bugging and burglary but the development of new techniques and technologies for the acquisition of information and knowledge. My hon. Friend the Member for Walton said that he knew he was being bugged because at 8.30 every night his telephone rang once. I believe that even MI5 are efficient enough to vary the time, but I have no doubt that he was bugged, with MI5 sharing the Government's attitude in the past. Such abuses can be overcome only by bringing the service's activities under democratic control. It is a question of making MI5's activities not simply legal, but accountable.
As to the argument about the two kinds of committee, I hope that when Conservative Members enter the Lobby tonight they will acknowledge the point made by many of their hon. Friends--that the Security Service must be subject to a form of responsible scrutiny. I do not understand why those who are so supportive of the American system in other areas are not openly equally supportive of America's system of openness on security matters.
It is not just a question of such matters being brought into Senate and Congressional activity, but of the openness with which that is done. Within months of Colonel North's being accused of funding the Contras, he was not only in front of a Congressional committee--not only in front of five good men and true, whether privy councillors or not ; he was in front of the television cameras and the American nation, and, although he exploited his position, the people were able to make a judgment. It is a question not merely of the immediate structure but of the apparatus of democracy beyond that, and we do not have a very good democracy here. We are asked to support
Column 69parliamentary democracy, but we have one of the weakest democracies in the West, and it is becoming even weaker and more dangerous. 6.30 pm
The present Government and Prime Minister have discovered that the sovereignty of Parliament for which many of us have argued for so long as against formal structures--"Leave it to Parliament"--can swiftly become the sovereignty of the Executive.
Mr. Tony Banks : My hon. Friend's points confirm my belief that he is one of the wisest Members of the House. Although I am a stern critic of United States foreign policy, particularly in respect of central America, I am also a great admirer of the openness of a political system that allows someone like Oliver North to come before the Senate. If that happened in this country, I doubt whether we would even hear about it, and if we heard about it there would be nothing that we could do about it.
Mr. Buchan : I doubt very much whether either Irangate or Watergate would have been divulged in this country, but I am equally sure that if they had been we would not have been able to draw our own conclusions and take the necessary measures. The United States may be a reactionary country in many ways, but it is immensely open compared with ours. The fact that people can make wrong judgments is not a reason for preventing the opportunity to make them. That is the only place where safety lies, and it is safety that we are talking about--not just the safety of the nation's intelligence and security, but that of democracy.
Looking at the past 10 years, we see openness, discussion, scrutiny, understanding and awareness being limited day after day by legal action and other intervention. Let us consider what happened following the "Death on the Rock" incident. Not only did the Government pull in one of our leading Sunday papers, God help us--with Andrew Neil taking time off from trying to damage the schools in my constituency, because he went to one of them, to try to rubbish broadcasts. They also formed a subcommittee to rubbish the evidence brought forward in the programme about the Gibraltar incident. The weakness of the popular media is exposed when they are controlled by three people. Terror has been inspired in broadcasters by the intervention of the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) over Libya, and the general pressure being brought by Government. Self-censorship is creeping in, and the media are becoming increasingly unable to perform their role. The British democratic system cannot develop means of scrutiny over the Executive. On top of that, we have an Executive willing to exploit the position--to use friendship and its power over the media--not only to prevent things from being known but to support what is wrong, evil and undemocratic.
Once upon a time we had an independent voice on the Right in Lord Beaverbrook and the Daily Express, and an independent and iconoclastic voice on the Left in the Daily Mirror. Now we have toadies in the Executive. We have a broadcasting system that is frightened into removing controversy, and we are about to sell it out to commercial interests which have already subverted our popular press.
Column 70We cannot hand over legality to the security services--with all the authority that that gives--and leave control, understanding and knowledge solely in the hands of the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister. Some method must be found for scrutiny to take place. It has been suggested that a committee of Privy Councillors would go some way towards overcoming the worries of this curiously timid Cabinet, but a much more intelligent suggestion is a committee representative of the House. We are being insulted when we are told that such matters cannot be left to hon. Members. What is the difference between us and the people and politicians of America? Why is it that they can do what we cannot? That is insulting to both the British people and the House of Commons.
Mr. Maclennan : One point has not been made as effectively as it might have been by advocates of the committee of Privy Councillors. Privy Councillors are perhaps less subject than other Members of Parliament to promises of preferment and to the appeal of patronage. They are capable of independence. As the hon. Gentleman knows, some hon. Members are much less independent of the party machine.
Mr. Buchan : I find that even more insulting. It has been left to the "democratic" party to suggest that Members of Parliament are suborned by bribery and corruption, or the thought of it. What nonsense. If the hon. Gentleman wants to make a comparison, there is as much pork barrelling on Capitol Hill in Washington as there is here. I find that suggestion grossly insulting, and I am sorry that it came from the hon. Gentleman. I wish--for his sake, not mine--that I had not given way.
It is nonsense to suggest that Members of Parliament cannot perform their function of scrutiny. Even if they did so inefficiently, they could not do worse than this Government and successive Governments have done over the years.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : This place might not be very efficient in its scrutiny, but is it not important to have public accountability in respect of a service so drastically inefficient that it thought that Harold Wilson would be a danger in 1974? If the service contains people like that, it must have some degree of accountability, because we do not know what they are doing.
As most people know, I resigned immediately after the October 1974 election. I had, as I thought, prepared the Government's policy on agriculture in the Common Market. I spent a long time preparing the briefing and the analysis. But--as Minister of State, not Secretary of State--I could not see the relevant papers. I spent some days trying to find out why not. I then received a telephone call from an Under-Secretary in another Department asking whether I knew what was happening about the Common Market policy. I said, "No. I wrote it, and I wish I knew what was happening to it." For some weeks I tried to find out. Then I said, "May I see the Cabinet papers?" All hell broke loose. The Minister of State wanted to see the Cabinet minutes. The Permanent Secretary was consulted ; he thought not. I pressed the matter, and eventually they agreed to let me see the minutes. The Cabinet minutes are pretty boring. They are not very full :